When I first started on my path to becoming a professional musician I didn’t realize that being able to listen well was going to be my survival skill.
I didn’t realize that it didn’t matter how many notes I could play on whichever instrument.
I didn’t realize that I could make or break a rehearsal or performance by how much I used my listening skills, thereby lengthening or shortening my career.
Fortunately for me, I learned to listen and listen well. And when I really think of it now, over the years, I have listened more than I have played, and that’s a good thing. I'll repeat that - I have listened more than I have played. Many thanks to my teachers and colleagues for telling me ( No, yelling at me) to "LISTEN!".
How about you? How many times have you thought about saying it to a colleague or employee: “I wish you would just listen more?”
The problem today is that we are not good listeners. We’re distracted listeners. I’d even go so far as to say that we are probably the worst listeners we have ever been.
I’ll even argue that we are better smellers than we are listeners because smelling is mostly out of our control. But listening is like a muscle. We have the ability to exercise it in various capacities but often don’t.
It seems we are not giving our listening skills a fair chance. In a recent article in Fast Company magazine, the author(s) cited a survey of 3600 professionals from 30 countries and from various levels inside organizations. Almost all of the respondents considered themselves to be good listeners but they also admitted to being distracted and serious multi-taskers, a common occurrence during conference calls where people are also dealing with emails and instant messaging. It’s no wonder things get missed or forgotten.
We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. Epictetus - Greek Philosopher
Maybe you have been lucky enough to have played a musical instrument, so you have an idea of just how powerful listening can be, and how you can be in control of it. You have likely experienced the focus required to really connect with other people, and you may have the power to weed out distraction.
These are two important skills needed to have a meaningful conversation with someone, and another good reason to keep music in our schools (but I digress).
I used to be a terrible listener. When I think back to why, a lot of it had to do with two things: 1) I was too full of myself; 2) I didn’t really understand that I had to make the effort.
I was too full of myself in this way: I thought that just because I had put in a lot of time practicing something, and could execute it perfectly on my own, it followed that I could play with other musicians and it would simply sound good. I was wrong. It only sounded good when in context.
I remember one of my first orchestral experiences wherein I had prepared my part well but was stopped by the conductor in rehearsal because I wasn’t making my part fit with the other players. I wasn’t listening. I was just thinking – “Hey everyone, listen to how great my part sounds. I practiced! I am awesome”.
I didn’t understand that I had to make the effort to listen. If I played without listening, I could not connect with my colleagues. The moment I listened to them as well as myself, I could make whatever necessary adjustments I needed to bring things together. In order to do that, I had to have an open mind and be very receptive to what I was hearing.
I know you’re in an office and not on a stage or in a rehearsal room but I think it’s the same concept. You can’t connect with your colleagues unless you’re making the effort. It simply won’t happen.
While I could list several reasons as to why we don’t listen well I feel it comes down to two things:
1) Too much ego.
2) Not enough effort.